Friday, January 26, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, VI: Omen of Sargon, Who Ruled the Universe; Omen of the Inhabitants of Apisal, Whom Naram-Sin Made Prisoner by a Breach in the Wall

Assyria is perhaps the unique example of a state that revived itself in the early Iron Age, which actually had writing. The case for revival might be a bit weak, were it not for Ashurnasirpal renovating Kalhu (Nimrud) as a capital, building a palace there and decorating it with the "Standard Inscription" that celebrates his rule: State, city, text. More than anyone else can say, the Zhou excepted.

So, why focus on Sargon, instead of Ashurnasirpal? There's a technical and economic reason --the opening to the west; and a military one, in that we get some sense of how large his armies were, and, in particular, his cavalry arm, by virtue of an idealised order of battle for the Field Marshal of the Left's standing force, of 1500 cavalry and 250 chariots. Neo-Assyrian military statistics probably aren't worth the dirt they're written on in general, but this document suggests that a brigade of cavalry and a squadron of chariots are impressive numbers and give some kind of sense of what Assyria's demand for horses might have been like. (Although it is much less impressive than Sarah Melville's minimal estimate of a pack train of 15,000 mules.) 

In either case, it is hard to see the demand for horses having a knock-on effect as far as Britain, the other place I'm going to be looking at today. The case for equestrian skills is a bit vaguer, in that a particularly delicious letter from an administrator to Sargon informs him, exasperatedly, that th the governor has been able to round up 500 horses for the army, but only 50 men. "What do I do know?" He asks. Assuming, as seems likely, that the horses are unbroken, it's a good question, for me, as it is for Sargon. What's it telling us?

That Sargon was rich; that he had the resources and political buy-in to build Dur-Sharrukin; that he had to draw on the horse-rearing capabilities of large areas; that his ability to access western Mediterranean trade goods via the overland routes through Anatolia and Phoenicia was important to his success. More on that later!

But there is also the ideological component. What made Assyrian ideas congenial? What made people willing to listen to smiths and horse trainers from afar? It is a fact that Assyria's ancient wisdom, its insights into extipiscy and divining were rooted in ancient oracles. Enigmatic messages out of deepest antiquity are sent by the gods to help us think through the mysteries of their will.

Suppose you examined the liver of a sacrificial animal and found the"Omen of Sargon, who took earth from the courtyard of the . . . gate and built a city [op]posite Agade and called its name ["Babylon,"] and settled [] within it." In Babylon, this is read as an unfavourable omen, reflecting Sargon's hubris. That is not, however, the only way that it can be read. Benjamin Foster describes the "oddest" of the Mari exstiptal models as a simple circle with seven notches around it. Unfortunately for someone who wants to take a leap in the dark and see the liver as some kind of divine model of a city, it is an omen of Naram-Sin related to the inhabitants of Apisal. Naram-Sin is a later Akkadian king not known for building possibly-blasphemous cities. (He did have to survive a zombie apocalypse, though. So that's cool.) He is, however, known for taking the city of Apisal by a breach, which the omen text ingeniously conflates with perforations in the liver, a diagnostic sign for the haruspice. 

WTF, I'll go all in. Universe: liver: city. The perimeter of the city is the surface of the liver: perforations, breaches, gates. This, it happens, is "Gate B2" of Dur-Sharrukin. I haven't been able to find out, and perhaps we do not know, to which god it was dedicated; but, well, it's a "breach" in the seven-gated city. We don't know, and will probably never know, how Sargon meant us to read it, but that doesn't change the fact that it was meant to be read. The city is the universe. 

Look upon my works, etc.
I'm repeating myself, I know. "City establishments" are a powerful idea in regions where the cities actually had to be established, where the state really was being built on virgin soil. The problem here is to ground wispy claims about ideologies and knowledge transfer in empirical evidence. British hillforts first appeared in the Early Iron Age. They may be a well-worn subject, but there's just so much information available about them that they are well worth a look here.   

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, V: The Sin of Sargon

This post comes out of the reading I did for this one. I had the vague impression that "Assyrian"-style haruspical bronze liver models were widespread in Etruscan contexts. This, combined with the similarities between the Assyrian Eponyms and Roman consuls, seemed to make a relatively strong case for the dissemination of prestige knowledge practices from the Neo-Assyrian sphere of influence to the Latin periphery in the Early Iron Age.

Instrument of prophecy, scientific tool, cosmological model and it's a desert topping!

All of this collapsed under closer inspection. The model above turns out to be a unique find. Its closest parallel is with clay models found around Mari, dating a millennium before the Neo-Assyrian Empire. No doubt there is some continuity of tradition, but we have no idea what it is. Modern scholarship also puts the consular office much later than the traditional account. Athenian archons seem much less problematically connected with the eponym tradition.

On the other hand, John Wilkins' polemical argument that the  Iguvine Tablets  should best be seen as largely deliberate mystification in support of the social hegemony of some kind of college of diviners was stimulated and triggered a chain of associations with some work, disseminating from "Biblical archaeological" circles that I didn't cite at the time because I couldn't remember, and wasn't sure that I could find the citation. Shameful, I know. The basic idea is that King Josiah's well-known religious reforms, which were directed at local cult (he burned the bones worshipped in the "high places of Israel" on their own idols) were not just intended to build up a centralised state worship of a single god, and, hence, of the state itself. It had astronomical or cosmological implications, and, most interestingly, was a response to the Neo-Assyrian policy of deportations that had previously aimed to break local power by transplanting elites, notably of diviners ("knowledge workers"). I'll have more to say about that below, since it's all so perversely amusing. For now, I will just link to the chapter in question, uploaded to, presumably by the author, Baruch Halpern. (Not found without exposing my mind to the sanity-blasting ancient teachings of the Enochians. What I do for my blog! Though maybe the Enochians have had uncritical press. They seem a bit flaky to me.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Postblogging Technnology, November 1947, II: Douglas' Turn is Ugly

"We may make it --Approaching a strip . . . "

R_. C_.,
 Vancouver, Canada

Dear Sir:

Thank you THANK YOU for taking care of my flight. Constellation Speedbird! I feel like a movie star! I see that I am touching down in New York on the 28th, then by the Forty-Niner to San Francisco, so I will miss Christmas, but I will be there for New Year's Eve! I called around to tell people, but I find that a little birdie has beaten me to it! Oh, well, Ma Bell seems to need as much of my money as I can find for her. My parents' money. Remind me again why nice girls don't get jobs? Because I saw the chic-est young ladies carrying textbooks into Stanford Law the other day. What do you--

DON'T TELL ANYONE! Oh, dear. I hope you don't think the less of my calligraphy for that, but I can hardly contain my excitement. Have I mentioned how grateful I am? 

I would say more, but this letter has taken a lot more time than I expected, and I will have to drive like a maniac to make my date with Q. and Mrs. C. I don' t want to make her mad, because we have serious Christmas shopping to do, and I am counting on them as my guides to Chinatown.

Yours Sincerely,

United Flight 608 went down trying to make a strip near Bryce Canyon Airport Three weeks later, an American Airlines flight with a fire on board from the same cause made a successful emergency landing at Gallup. But seven months after that, United Flight 624 will crash with the loss of all on board while responding to a false alarm of a fire. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, November 1947, I: When America Gets a Cold, The Rest of the World Gets 70-Calibre Pneumonia"

Update: Put some words in.

At the head, I should point out that this appendix is up for the usual reason that I'm not going to get the next postblogging post up next week unless I can work on it this week. But, hey, the 3"/70 AA is morbid fun, and pneumonia might be going around this January. Relevance!

Can ships come down with pneumonia? Maybe there's a relief that can come in for a shift.
HMS Swiftsure is a cruiser that was scrapped in mid-modernisation in 1959/60 largely due to concerns about a proposed 3"/70 fit.
The postblogging series is still more than a year away from the final crisis of the Great Siege, the 30% devaluation of the pound on 19 September 1949. But, as Eric Groves helpfully reminds us, the devaluation was driven by the American recession, which reminded me of that old proverb about how the world gets pneumonia when America gets the cold; and we came across an earlier symptom of these ongoing problems this week, with the controversy over the reduction of the Home Fleet to a single cruiser and four destroyers. 

At one level, this reminds me of the Daily Mail's recent ginned-up outrage over the Royal Navy being reduced to "nineteen ships," in that it's complete bollocks. Submarines aren't ships, you see. Nowadays, the SSNs of the modern Royal Navy are the ships that keep the seas, and the nation's exclusive nuclear holocaust-related services providers (Yes, I have been catching up with my Laundry novels backlog over the holiday). Back in 1947, in the wake of the brief convertability episode in the summer, the Cabinet had forced cuts in the Estimates that reduced the surface elements of the Home Fleet to a single Dido-class cruiser and four Battles (with 1 battleship, 11 cruisers, 1 carrier, 24 destroyers and frigates and 5 submarines on foreign stations); but even though the cuts had been financial, their effective means of execution had been manpower cuts, and the fact that the Home Fleet was running twenty submarines probably tells us something about what was really going on. . .